Pawlenty endorsement unlikely to boost Romney
By Hannah Hess | IowaPolitics.com
IOWA CITY – Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s endorsement of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney may boost Romney’s conservative credentials, but it appears to do little to bolster his network in Iowa.
“Some Iowans may say, ‘OK, we’ll take another look at Gov. Romney,’ but if Gov. Romney’s not going to be competing in Iowa, I don’t know how much that will help him in the end,” Republican strategist Eric Woolson, who previously worked as an Iowa spokesman for Pawlenty’s campaign, told IowaPolitics.com.
Pawlenty on Monday endorsed Romney during an appearance on “Fox and Friends,” announcing he would serve as co-chairman of Romney’s national campaign. But former Pawlenty supporters and campaign members in Iowa have not hopped to the Romney bandwagon.
The former Minnesota governor spent 48 days campaigning in Iowa — second only to former Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum — and building a support network among state legislators and county-level Republican leaders before pulling the plug on his campaign on Aug. 14.
By contrast, Romney, who campaigned heavily here when he ran for the Republican nomination in 2008, has spent only five days in Iowa during this election cycle.
“Iowans do expect candidates to come here to campaign on a regular basis and to interact with us — to talk with us about the issues, and to listen to our questions and to be here,” Woolson said.
Former Pawlenty state campaign co-Chairman Christian Fong said the endorsement brings a “nice shot in the arm” to Romney’s Iowa campaign by bolstering his conservative credentials.
One point of contention for Romney has been the heath care plan he implemented in Massachusetts, which Pawlenty branded ‘ObamneyCare’ early in the campaign. Like other 2012 Republican candidates, Romney has vowed to stop implementation of the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which requires all Americans to carry health insurance or face penalties.
“For those that doubted whether (Romney) was a true conservative, they can gain a measure of comfort,” said Fong, who predicted that Pawlenty’s reputation as a “full-spectrum conservative” will help Romney in Iowa.
But the news does not bring Fong, a former Republican gubernatorial candidate and political insider, any closer to jumping on board with Romney’s 2012 campaign. Texas Gov. Rick Perry’s people also have been actively in trying to recruit his help, he said, but he has not made a decision because he suspects the field is not set.
“The Republican field right now is a little bit like a prairie dog village and supporters are poking their heads up, looking around, and they put their heads back down and emerge out a different hole,” Fong said.
Most state lawmakers who endorsed Pawlenty say they have not yet made a decision on whom to support.
“At this point I’m still looking and not ready to jump on board with anyone yet,” said state Rep. Erik Helland, R-Johnston, who served as Pawlenty’s Iowa campaign director. He said Perry, the current frontrunner in Iowa and national polling, has been most persistent about asking for his support.
Pawlenty had developed a “stellar network and phenomenal grassroots game,” Helland said, including the support of 10 state legislators. He won 2,293 votes of the 16,892 cast in the Ames Straw Poll, placing third, compared to 567 votes and a seventh-place finish for Romney, who didn’t actively compete.
But it remains to be seen if Romney will tap into that support.
State Rep. Steve Lukan, R-New Vienna, who endorsed Pawlenty in June, said the news has made him think hard about a Romney endorsement. He said he believes that others in his Dubuque-area district could be swayed by Pawlenty’s choice.
“It certainly adds a lot of strength to the Romney campaign. A lot of people respected (Pawlenty). He laid out a good plan for moving the country forward,” said Lukan, who is still waiting to make another 2012 endorsement.
Of the 10 lawmakers who endorsed Pawlenty, only state Rep. Linda Miller, R-Bettendorf, has switched to Romney. She is one of 18 state lawmakers who endorsed Romney’s 2008 bid. Others have yet to choose a candidate.
Asked about how Pawlenty’s endorsement might affect how Iowans vote in the caucuses, Gov. Terry Branstad said Monday that he was unsure.
Pawlenty “certainly has every right to choose who he thinks will be the strongest candidate. I guess time will tell, what kind of impact that has,” he said.
Woolson has not committed to another 2012 campaign. He helped the Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann’s campaign with local media contacts as a volunteer during an event this past weekend. He also served as campaign manager for former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee‘s winning 2008 Iowa caucus campaign.
He said Pawlenty’s decision to endorse a fellow governor did not come as a surprise, and that Romney’s momentum would depend on how he chose to direct his campaign.
“In the end, I think Iowans are pretty independent, self-sufficient folks that do think for themselves and they’ll make their own decisions kind of based on their analysis of the candidates,” Woolson said. “Iowans want to see people come here and campaign with us face-to-face.”
Romney’s Iowa steering committee Chairman Brian Kennedy said he believes the endorsement will prove to be very helpful.
“Governor Pawlenty got to know a lot of Iowans. Iowans respected him and I think they value his opinion,” Kennedy said. “It’s terrific to have him as part of Gov. Romney’s team. He’ll be a real big help in Iowa”.
Kennedy said the campaign has been reaching out to Pawlenty staff members and supporters in hopes of expanding their network.
“Most folks are going to make up their own minds, he said, “but what might influence it is endorsements by people that they trust.”
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